Climate change vs. global warming:
The USGS (United States Geological Survey) explains that climate change is the long-term effects on the climate including precipitation levels, wind patterns and temperature. The UN (United Nations) mentions that climate change can also be caused by environmental activity – disassociated with humans – and in fact, there is evidence to suggest nature, too, plays a role in altering the climate. Climate change is largely in part due to the industrial revolution, however, since the 1800s climate change has been a predominantly human-associated issue due to extractivist capitalism and the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Global warming on the other hand is one element of climate change as it only represents the average increase in surface temperatures. NASA states, “Since the pre-industrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).” Simply put, climate change is the overarching alterations in the planet’s ecology and climate, whereas, global warming exclusively measures the average temperature escalation.
How much will climate change cost?
The multinational professional services company, Deloitte, estimates that climate change will cost the global economy – if left unchecked – $252.7 trillion AUD ($178 trillion USD) over the next 50 years. That’s around $513.6 billion AUD ($356 billion USD) annually. Furthermore, Deloitte speculates that a shortfall in climate action would cost the Southeast Asian economy $39 trillion AUD ($28 trillion USD), and in a plausible worst-case scenario, 26.5% of their GDP by 2050. The White House predicts that climate change will cost the United States economy $2 trillion annually from now to 2100. As for Europe, the yearly cost will be around $215.5 billion AUD ($152 billion USD), consuming 4% of Europe’s forecasted GDP. In Australia until 2100, it’s estimated that $129 billion AUD ($91 billion USD) will disappear.
These statistics only represent the impacts felt by the wealthy, never mind the economic cost for developing nations set to be hit hardest by climate change.
These economic costs won’t only inflict pain on governments but on individuals and families as well. The Conversation claims a young person growing up in Australia will have to pay an additional $245,000 AUD ($171, 000 USD) late in the future because of climate change. The Australian government suggests that as of 2020, there were 3.2 million young people in the country. If so, that’s $784 billion AUD ($552.9 billion USD) of individual Australian wealth being lost.
Whilst there is no explicit data for other countries, the Australian figures are sufficient enough to send warning signals to much of the Global North.
How much must we spend to mitigate climate change?
In 2014, Naomi Klein claimed in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, that the world would need to spend $1.9 trillion annually to stop climate change. Now, however, The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) estimates that $2.4 trillion needs to be spent yearly on the energy system (fossil to renewable) alone. The World Bank, prior to COVID-19, estimated that the world would need to spend $129 trillion AUD ($90 trillion USD) by 2030. The World Bank did express some form of optimism though, claiming that for every dollar spent over the next few decades, the global economy would be rewarded 4-fold in financial benefits, as compared to remaining on a course of business-as-usual.
The flora & fauna fallout:
The National Park Service claims a rise in global temperatures, altering precipitation and changing seasons will affect the availability of food, reduce successful reproduction, and increase interferences with invasive species driven from other habitats. Bees and butterflies, for example, will begin to feed on flowers and other plants blooming at earlier or later stages of the year, which may impact the already vulnerable gut microbes. Fish living in cool water streams may diminish due to warmer air. This warmer air either depriving the ecosystem of water entirely or increasing the water temperature which may encourage foreign species. As for polar bears, the continuous reduction in arctic ice sheets will see the species become extinct by the end of the century if little is done to suppress climate change. Other animals like orangutans, koalas, monarch butterflies, Atlantic cod, leatherback sea turtles, ringed seals, Asian elephants, apes, and Bengal tigers are all under intense threat from the likely effects of an altering climate.
Natural disasters have already increased 5-fold compared to 50 years ago which is not only damaging the fragile fauna left but releasing large quantities of carbon from flora, further increasing atmospheric greenhouse concentrations. The Australian Black Summer bushfires during 2019 and 2020 burned over 186,000 square kilometres of land – displacing and/or killing an estimated 3 billion koalas, kangaroos and other animals. Moreover, as of 2022, marine animals like the North Atlantic right whale are among an increasing list of endangered species with under 350 left. Warming oceans, coupled with oceanic human conflicts, will likely drive them to extinction.
The drastic loss of flora has even broader consequences and must now be treated as an ecological emergency. Without plants, trees and grasses, many animals and insects would cease to exist. A report by Global Citizen claims that 40% of all edible crops used globally will likely face extinction soon due to climate change. These include but are not limited to potato, avocado and vanilla crops. Potatoes and avocados contribute nearly $8 billion to the United States alone. As for vanilla, the global value is over $1.4 billion. Besides agricultural economics, climate change is predicted to send over 1 in 3 plant species into extinction by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to be spewed out of cars, coal and cows at current rates. Furthermore, a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens claims that 39.4% of plants are already threatened with extinction. That’s a leap from 1 in 5 from the previous report released in only 2016.
The current global warming temperature agreement of 1.5 degrees Celsius, established by the Paris Agreements should, in theory, mitigate any monumental alteration in the climate and ecological balance. This promise by 196 parties during COP21 has almost entirely been thrown out the window, with new forecasts from the IPCC suggesting an increase in atmospheric and land temperature between 2.5 and 10 degrees Celsius. An increase reflecting IPCC estimates would bring beyond catastrophic change. For perspective, an increase of just 1.8 degrees Celsius would destroy over 99% of global coral.
How will climate change influence us?
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs believes that by 2050, the human population will have grown to 9.8 billion people. A report published in 2020 by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) claims that by 2050, there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees. This means if everyone on earth in 2050 was placed in a single line, over 1 in 10 would be subjected to a continuous influx of uncertainty, despair and ecological carnage. The report found that 31 countries were not yet adequately prepared nor protected from the ecological threats, claiming that 19 of those were likely to be exposed to a lack of both water and food, and were among the top 40 least prosperous and peaceful countries. A few included were Nigeria, Uganda, Angola and Burkina Faso. The study found – besides those likely hit hardest – that countries like China and India were at far greater risk of water scarcity, whilst revealing that 141 countries will be exposed to at least 1 major ecological threat by 2050. Worse, many countries in the Middle East or Africa are facing increasing threats that their economic system can no longer handle.
Over the past 50 years, the global water supply has declined by 60% while the demand for food by 2050 will more than double. In countries like Australia, as temperatures escalate, there will be a huge reduction in agricultural production and quality due to stressed meat (further reducing its suitability for humans) and fewer crop yields. Not only will this shrink food availability but prices will soar, and for many, will be out of financial grasp (much like global inflation in 2022).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that climate change is now the “biggest health threat facing humanity” suggesting that an additional 250,000 people will die annually from heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. The initial, and still currently recommended, 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limitation imposed by the Paris Agreement is no longer “considered safe”. The organisation says that every tenth of a degree of warming will have a huge impact on society, increasing healthcare costs, poverty, inequality and health.
Other ways in which climate change will impact all, whether in developed or developing countries include:
– power outages leading to unsupportive hospitals and transportation systems;
– increased malnutrition from more atmospheric Co2, reducing certain crop nutritional content (soy or barely);
– higher humidity levels spreading infectious diseases like Lyme disease to much of the Global North;
– greater levels of respiratory disease and allergy seasons;
– less freshwater supply from rising sea levels in low-lying regions;
– trauma and other mental illnesses from increased floods, fires and droughts; and
– working hazards on farms, factories or in trade with hotter days and accelerated disease-transmitting insect populations.
How long do we have left?
A 2018 report released by the IPCC explained that in order to reach the seemingly-conservative warming level of 1.5 degrees Celsius, all countries globally must reach net-zero emissions by 2050. In 2019, the UN headlined that there were only “11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change”. By 2030, all nations will need to have slashed their emissions in half to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target laid out by the Paris Agreement.
Due to our abysmal effort over the past few decades to reduce emissions, the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) suggests that remaining on a 1.5 degree Celcius warming course requires cutting emissions by 7.6% annually. How has that been going? In 2020 during the first wave of COVID-19, emissions still only declined by 6%. So even the pandemic wasn’t enough to reduce the number of emissions required. As for 2021 and 2022, our greenhouse gas output continues to escalate. In layman’s terms, the time we have left to transition is becoming increasingly minuscule by the day.
The Guardian believes that unless we eliminate emissions, 410 million people will be living in areas less than 2 metres above sea level by 2100, and under threat of evacuation. According to Bloomberg, global warming alone will kill 83 million people by 2100. As for animals, based on figures from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), 558 mammal species will be extinct by 2100. The impacts of climate change will cause a worldwide humanitarian and ecological crisis, beyond anything COVID-19 or inflation could create. How long will it be until governments and society place economic growth and luxury possessions behind environmental action? As Guy McPherson, a scientist and professor at the University of Arizona comments, “If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”